Business as usual? Easier said than done

The easing of lockdown measures to contain Covid-19 is bringing a little normality back into daily life in many European countries. Shops are open once more, children are returning to schools, and there are fewer restrictions on outdoor activities. Commentators describe how the human factor is causing problems and surprises in this readjustment phase.

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Il Manifesto (IT) /

When too many things are forbidden...

In Italy, the deployment of neighourhood watch groups to monitor compliance with the current rules is being discussed. Commenting in Il Manifesto, author Marco Bascetta thinks little of the idea:

“If there was one constant in the decrees, regulations and norms, it was the continual demonisation of 'leisure activities', that is to say everything that went beyond work, from sport and physical bodycare to caring for the spirit and mind. ... The normative sieve, which claimed to separate the necessary from the superfluous, above all suppressed youthful activities and the use of public space. ... Naturally, the risks of these forms of sociality must also be taken into account. ... But rational and non-punitive admonitions to self-regulate would be socially more acceptable - and perhaps even more effective.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Why the Czechs are sticking to their masks

The majority of Czechs kept their mouths and noses covered in public yesterday even though the obligation to do so has been dropped. Hospodářské noviny speculates on the reasons for this:

“1. Disorientation: with the regulations constantly changing people didn't notice this rule had been abolished. 2. Inertia: people tend to stick to routines even when they make no sense. 3. Fear: the catastrophic consequences of the epidemic in Italy, Spain or the US have become engraved in people's minds. 4. A sense of responsibility: some people are (rightly) convinced that masks protect other people from infection. ... In any case, it's great that people are now free to decide how they want to use the masks.”

Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

Common sense means inspiring hope

To face the challenges of the new normality with the necessary strength and maturity we need a positive vision for the future, says Jornal de Notícias:

“This is the adult phase of the pandemic. After the fear and isolation, common sense, a sense of civic duty and individual responsibility must now prevail. Maturity. We don't want to prolong this 'social dictatorship' beyond what is absolutely necessary. Nobody is asking for libertinage, but we need some space, a perspective, a doorway, a horizon that restores our balance (emotional and physical). And we really, really need a glimmer of economic hope that dispels the dark traces left by unemployment, despair and hunger.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Lesson remains unlearned

It's a fatal mistake to ease the restrictions in such an uncoordinated way, the Süddeutsche Zeitung warns:

“What's depressing about the current situation is that so many people are mistakenly interpreting the easing as a sign that things weren't all that bad. ... But that only reflects the well-known prevention paradox, according to which the success of cautionary measures only reinforces the impression that the threat wasn't so serious after all. ... This is in fact strange because if you stay dry with an umbrella during a rain shower you'd never think of turning around and saying 'Rain? What rain?'. The lesson 'pandemic for beginners' that we received during the first wave hasn't been properly understood.”

Magyar Hang (HU) /

How strong is Europe's immune system?

The public's reaction to monitoring instruments introduced as a result of Covid-19 is a key indicator for Europe, Magyar Hang believes:

“Beijing is currently experimenting with forcing students to wear thermometer bracelets. Even in other, more liberal environments, various surveillance technologies are also being developed. Many people were initially willing to accept such measures for fear of the virus. ... At what point will we feel that what we agreed to yesterday represents a serious violation of human dignity today? ... How strong is the mental immune system of Europe's societies? In the 20th century we had many disappointing experiences. In recent decades we believed we'd steeled ourselves against authoritarian tendencies. The coming months and years will show whether this is true.”

Ziarul Financiar (RO) /

Fear behind the curtains

Romania is due to begin easing the restrictions on Friday but Ziarul Financiar wonders whether people will be able to return to a normal everyday life:

“Behind the curtains in the windows there are hundreds of thousands of people who have barricaded themselves in their homes. How do you get these people back on the streets, how do you take away their fear? ... You have emptied the hospitals to make room for those infected with the virus. At least a thousand people have died in this country, and hundreds more are likely to die, unfortunately. But hundreds of thousands of others may have needed a doctor during this time but were left without help. ... The hardest thing will be for people return to normal life. You may say: fear also protects. Yes, protecting yourself is good. But the authorities have overdone it.”

Satakunnan Kansa (FI) /

Psychological impact should be taken into account

Satakunnan Kansa warns against letting economic considerations alone guide society out of lockdown:

“There is much talk about the corona exit. ... But the focus of the news is always on the economy. It's understandable that the economy often takes priority. But if this applies without exception, our society's memory of the corona era will end up being rather cold. Of course relatives want to be there when a member of the family dies. You want to hold their hand, stroke their hair and sit next to them until it's all over. ... Hopefully society will offer psychological help to those who are now agonising over the last lonely moments of their loved ones.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Doubt is good

Virologists are warning against easing the restrictions too quickly, but without being able to make clear predictions. Commenting in Corriere della Sera, writer and physicist Paolo Giordano sees the fact that science is not considered omniscient as a positive sign:

“In an era marked by assertiveness, scientists have put doubt back at the centre of discourse. They have tried to answer questions not with slogans, but with new questions, and have rediscovered for us the forbidden category of not knowing ... If scientists can be accused of anything, it is not their lack of knowledge or their different opinions, but the opposite: sometimes they were not willing enough to defend the boundary between knowledge and not knowing. In other words, they sometimes allowed themselves to be infected by the media's need to 'give hope'.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Consult the behavioral scientists

A task force of behavioural researchers should be set up to predict how people will cope with the easing, a group of health psychologists urges in Le Soir:

“We would probably learn that the same behaviour is not caused by the same factors depending on different groups (for example young and old, privileged and disadvantaged). It is possible that the factors that determine our decision to wear a mask are very different from those that lead to our social distancing. Consequently, scientifically based recommendations adapted to each group and pattern of behavior could guide political choices.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Freedom brings hard choices

Phase one of the corona exit strategy begins today, Monday, on about half of Spain's territory. For the first time since the lockdown began people will be able to meet friends and relatives and use the outdoor areas of cafés and restaurants again. This phase is full of pitfalls, La Vanguardia warns:

“Staying at home for two months was painful but easy because there was no alternative. Now we will have to make a myriad of decisions that won't be easy. Do I use a mask? Gloves? Do I take the subway? Do I go back to working at the office? Is this little discomfort reason enough to stay home? Do I visit my parents? Do I sit down at a sidewalk café even if the safe distance is not maintained? Do I accept the invitation to a forbidden gathering?”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Rational fear must be replaced with rational courage

A strategy for dealing with Covid-19 must be found to bridge the time until a cure or vaccine is discovered, Jutarnji list insists:

“We must not get into a situation in which entire cities or regions are blocked by a single sick family. ... It may sound cruel, but we will have to establish a correlation between the number of infected people and the number of intensive care beds and ventilators. Not because that's what the European Commission is proposing, but because of us, the future of our economy and our children. ... It was easy to decide in favour of strict epidemiological measures. We were led by rational fear. But now we must be brave and live with the risk.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

The French are settling into the nanny state

French citizens seem quite happy to be told what to do by the state, essayist Jean-Philippe Vincent opines in Le Figaro:

“The French are being treated like irresponsible adults, which is how they apparently view themselves. Every day of the lockdown they wait for instructions from the government. ... Of course the odd individual criticises this or that aspect of the government's management of the crisis. ... But this criticism is merely superficial. Many people are accusing the government of not tackling all the vicissitudes of the current crisis with absolute certainty and efficiency. People want the government to both possess magical powers and be infallible. Many French have become 'addicts' for whom authority is a drug to be consumed without limitation. We have arrived at the age of the nanny state.”

hvg (HU) /

Don't lose sight of human dignity

In the corona crisis efforts to protect human lives may clash with the protection of human dignity, writes journalist Péter Techet in hvg:

“Human dignity alone is not a sufficient argument against the strict restrictions. But if these measures become disproportionate or last too long they could endanger human dignity. One can point here to children who are locked up in toxic family environments, to patients who are being discharged from hospitals [regardless of their state of health, in order to make way for corona patients], or to those whose lives have been destroyed by the economic crisis. Any action must take into account that the protection of human dignity is paramount. Human life must and can only be protected while preserving that dignity.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

An invitation to a second wave

The people of Budapest seem to have already forgotten the horror of the first wave of infection, writes the pro-government daily Magyar Hírlap:

“The citizens are understandably growing tired of the self-restraint and imprisonment. The amount of traffic on the streets of Budapest is almost as high as it ever was and the shopping fever for the Easter weekend was like a biological attack. In the afternoons masses of people go jogging on Margaret Island, and Normafa park is filled with people day after day. It's as if, now that the initial shock is over, the citizens want an even bigger slap in the face - namely a second wave of the pandemic.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Easing of lockdown too slow

Boris Johnson yesterday announced plans for a very slow easing of the lockdown. This is a cowardly approach, writes The Daily Telegraph:

“Banning convivial gatherings in the country for years is vastly too high a price to consider paying to achieve an annual death toll, from all causes, of 600,000 this year instead of 650,000. If one truly believed they thought that was a price worth paying that would be one thing. One would think them quite mad and totally unfit persons to govern a country, but at least one would understand their point of view. But the truth is that they know that is wrong. It is morally indefensible to consider drawing this out for as long as ministers and their advisors propose, each day, on TV.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Citizens, behave yourselves!

Belgium is easing its corona restrictions and allowing limited social contacts again. But it won't work if the citizens don't exercise self-control, De Morgen warns:

“Even if the large majority behaves itself, there will always be a group which flouts the rules. The coronavirus has shown that it has little mercy for such egotism. The way back to a normal society is a deadly serious game with three players: one is the dastardly virus; the second is the government's response, with all its pros and contras; and the third is us, the people. Special regulations raise special questions, as ever. ... But we're best off interpreting the government's demands as simply as possible: behave. Either that, or it's a police state.”

T24 (TR) /

Pure image politicking by Erdoğan

Turkey's shopping centres and hairdressers will reopen from May 11 and Turkish Airlines will start flying again from the end of May. Erdoğan obviously needs some positive headlines, scoffs T24:

“On the one hand there is the success of the [opposition party] CHP city halls, on the other, the economic bottleneck that is lying in wait for every one of us; rising unemployment and the already ongoing crisis. So it's understandable that Erdoğan wants to convince the nation as soon as possible and spread the image of a victory in the fight against the virus. Yet the members of the Council of Science continue to warn that an overhasty return to 'normality' could be extremely dangerous.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A dangerous desire for freedom

People are becoming less and less willing to adhere to the corona restrictions, the Süddeutsche Zeitung worries:

“In a crisis, the critical moment always comes when the pressure and tension start to ease. In the beginning the fear was overwhelming and people were only too willing to toe the line. Now this willingness is fading and the desire for freedom is coming to the fore. ... What price is a society willing to pay to protect lives? In the end it won't be a chancellor, prime minister, state premiers' conference or cabinet that makes this decision. It will be made by society itself - through its behaviour. Societies generally have little sense of danger. ... As the wind turns in these springtime coronavirus days, society's gut feeling could send it in the wrong direction.”

Le Journal du Dimanche (FR) /

Don't put culture last

In France, festivals won't be able to take place until mid-July at the earliest. Theatres, cinemas and concert halls will remain closed until further notice. Putting culture at such a disadvantage in the exit strategy is unacceptable, star violinist Renaud Capuçon complains in Le Journal du Dimanche:

“A deconfinement timetable that puts the world of culture in last place would be contrary to our mission, our identity and our cultural influence. … We artists are willing to adapt, convinced that our passionate and supportive public will be able to adapt to these exceptional conditions. We need Bach, La Fontaine, Ravel or Molière so much! ... Let us meet the challenge with organisation, method and creativity. We must reinvent ourselves with panache.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Threat of new spike in infection numbers

Novaya Gazeta warns against easing the restrictions too soon:

“Above all we must not remain idle if the number of infections starts to rise again. Yet in many countries the leaders only receive this information seven to ten days later, when the disease forces patients to be hospitalised. What's also needed is an efficient system for tracking people who have had contact with infected patients. ... What's more, it will hardly be possible for commuters to maintain safe distances in the overcrowded transport systems of big cities.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Tourism could become an epidemiological bomb

Croatia will start to ease its coronavirus measures gradually today, also in the tourist sector. Jutarnji list considers this a risky strategy:

“A potential epidemiological bomb overshadows the apparently good news about a possible liberalisation of the regime for tourists entering Croatia. Tourism accounts for 15 to 18 percent of the gross domestic product, so it is important that it takes place. ... One question for the European ministers at their meeting today: will tourists on a holiday for which they have paid dearly want to follow the measures of the crisis team, keep their distance and make sure they don't infect their hosts? Perhaps, but what do we do when they decide under the hot sun on the terrace by the sea that this is not important? ”

Jydske Vestkysten (DK) /

Take regional differences into account

In Denmark there are many more Covid cases in the capital than in the provinces. Jydske-Vestkysten, which appears in southern Denmark, advocates an easing of measures on a local basis:

“Intelligent solutions that take account of the differences in our country are now needed. It is crucial that economic life gets going again across Denmark. In some areas, however, this is easier than in others. For example the spread of the virus is significantly lower in southern Denmark and North Schleswig than in Seeland or Herning. It would therefore be logical to relax the restrictions where the risk of infection is lowest, as is the case in our area.”

Kainuun Sanomat (FI) /

Risk for teachers must be considered

The wellbeing of the teachers must not be forgotten when deciding whether to reopen schools, Kainuun Sanomat urges:

“Prime Minister Sanna Marin is very concerned about the children now at home under widely differing conditions. ... But much less attention has been paid to the fact that in addition to the children a large number of adults work in schools. ... Many teachers employed in schools are in a risk group. Should you work in close contact with hundreds of people without any protective equipment? The government must now consider whether reopening schools for two weeks before the holidays will improve the situation of students who need to attend school for social reasons to such an extent that it justifies putting the health of thousands of teachers at risk.”